Glenn Close (actress, activist and co-founder of Bring Change to Mind) said: “What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candour, more unashamed conversation” and what better time than Mental Health Awareness Week to talk about it?
I sat for ages trying to think of a title for this blog. I landed on ‘no, it isn’t just you’ because it’s a phrase I’ve said and heard on many occasions in the last year or so which has been strange and weird, to say the least. It helps to know that someone else is feeling the same way doesn’t it?
This recent epoch has been characterised by frankly, a wild rollercoaster of emotions. I realised that the lows were getting very low and I recognised in myself something very close to burnout around mid 2020. I didn’t feel like myself. I wasn’t sleeping properly. I became forgetful, overwhelmed, and unproductive. I felt like I didn’t have a creative bone left in my body. I was existing through the days, rather than living through them. I was so sick of going for a walk.
It wasn’t just me. I spoke to some of my colleagues, peers, friends, and family about how the situation was ‘mashing my head’ and I discovered that I wasn’t the only one feeling like a baked potato.
I read fascinating articles that resonated with me when they referenced things like ‘pandemic fatigue‘ and ‘languishing‘. I peered curiously at the lines of mental health peaks and troughs plotted on a graph and thought ‘yes! that’s where I am now.’
I found some tweets from strangers on the internet that could have been written by me. Quite often they made me laugh out loud, and they made me feel like I wasn’t alone. It helped.
There are a few things that I’ve tried that have helped me and I hope that they will also help other people. I’ve written this from my perspective working in comms, but I’m sure they can be applied to pretty much any job.
Connect with people
Keep in touch regularly with your work pals and reach out to colleagues who you don’t know as well. It might be a bit of a chat before a zoom call starts, a virtual coffee, or a spontaneous message to check in on them. Find something relatable, send a daft joke or meme, or just ask how they’re doing.
Disconnect from devices
When your day job involves keeping up to date with the news, being on social media, and engaging with constant streams of information, your phone can be your worst enemy.
Create space between work related stuff and leisure stuff. Try reducing screen time. This is something I really struggle with and I’m guilty of looking on my phone when I can’t sleep, which creates the worst possible conditions for trying to get to sleep. It isn’t just me:
Stay in control of your working hours
There’s a real risk when working from home that you’ll find yourself tied to your screen and desk, giving the appearance that you’re ‘always available.’ Don’t do it.
The more you give, the more will be taken from you and before you know it you’ll have worked a solid 9 hours with no breaks and no change of pace.
Instead, block out time in your diary, such as first thing in a morning to prepare for the day, over lunch time to make sure you take a proper break, and at random times to give yourself space to breathe and plan. It isn’t selfish, it’s self care.
Let go when you’re not working
Work has been all-consuming for so many of us, but we need to reclaim our work/ life balance. Make a conscious effort to fill your leisure time with things you love to do and people who lift your spirits. Find escapism in TV or books or gaming. Whatever takes your mind off work.
Don’t be too hard on yourself and others
It’s been really shit hasn’t it? Living through a pandemic is bad enough, but everyone has their own worries and responsibilities too. People are grieving for their loved ones and for the loss of our pre-pandemic lifestyle. However it’s affected you, always try to be kind.
Remember you won’t always feel this way
This blog is at best a bit of friendly reassurance with a few ‘early help’ intervention ideas thrown in. If you are feeling not yourself, please talk to someone. Talk to me. Read Charlie Mackesy’s beautiful book. There’s obviously also an abundance of professional advice, support, and resources available online so please seek it out and keep it in your back pocket for yourself or someone else. One thing is for sure – it isn’t just you! x